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the latitudes of home

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

We came to China to explore the rhythm and pulse of life on the fringe, at least to the extent that our ignorance and inability to communicate would allow. Though a bike lets you wander off beaten roads, a hike lets you avoid roads entirely. So for the final few weeks of our China adventure, with boys gone and bikes packed in boxes, Mel and I chose to destroy a different subset of leg muscles on a 150-mile Buddhist pilgrimage kora around the Kawagebo mountains, where Tibet, Yunnan, Sichuan and Burma converge. Saddle sores healed on butts, blistered burned through heels, legs forgot how to pedal and remembered, painfully, how to walk. Pilgrims we were not, in any formal sense, but nirvana it was.

I feel great gratitude for being here, for being, rather, for there is no need to tie oneself to the snow mountains in order to feel free. I am not here to seek the ‘crazy wisdom’; if I am, I shall never find it. I am here to be here, like these rocks and sky and snow, like this hail that is falling down out of the sun.
–Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

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hundred in the handlebar

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

The following is a folk ballad based on a true story, composed by Kate and Mel over a campfire one starry night in China. Best sung to the accompaniment of a harmonica, spoons, and Tibetan chanting, preferably after you haven’t showered for 20 days, washed your clothes for 30, and are beginning to look and smell like a yak (see above: Kate on left, Mel on right.) Our pal Mark Bethune later put these words to a tune, check out his version of this cult classic.

Oh the road is long and the road is tough,
Been ridin’ fo days and I’m feelin’ so rough.
I ain’t got no food, I ain’t got no money,
20 yuan a day just ain’t enough, honey.

Four months in the saddle, a million miles from home,
The backroads of China are the trails I roam.
From the mountains to the desert and all the spaces in between,
These lands are purty, but these lands are mean.

And though I’m feelin’ down on luck,
It would all be better if I could get unstuck
that hundred dollar bill in my handlebar.

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